Johannesburg, South Africa Travel Guide and Things to Do: Nine Highlights

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THE SINGLE VIEW

Africa’s tallest urban bar is perched on the 57th floor of the Leonardo in Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan Sandton district. Alto234 (named after its height in meters) is an open-air rooftop bar that opened in 2021. Glam up the crowds and book in for a session like the Sunset Experience (R330/A$28 per person, includes a glass of Moet & Chandon). Snack on tapas as you spot planes taking off from OR Tambo International Airport 20km to the east, or locate the Magaliesberg mountain range (including the World Heritage-listed Cradle of Humankind) to the northwest. Try out the cocktail list or grab a miniature Moet from the personalized vending machine. See alto234.co.za

THE ONLY RESTAURANT

Just 300 meters from the Leonardo is Saint – a vast restaurant/champagne bar with 230 seats. The owners’ “crazy Italian” concept was to present a lively pizza and champagne joint (they were inspired after seeing a fashion designer in a Manhattan restaurant order this combo for himself and his entourage). The wood-fired ovens in Naples produce, among other things, pizzas with seafood and garlic butter and “white” pizzas topped with shoulder of lamb, confit garlic and sumac yogurt. Burrata can be added to any pizza order – and you can dance to any overindulgence on the nearby dance floors. See saint.restaurant

THE UNIQUE HOUSE-MUSEUM

Vilakazi Street in Soweto is famous for being the only street in the world to be home to two Nobel laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. After running the gauntlet of the Zulu dancers who frequent the place, see inside Mandela’s modest red-brick house where he lived – intermittently – from 1946 until his incarceration in 1962. After his release in 1990 , he returned to his “memory house”. for only 11 days. See mandelahouse.com

THE ONLY BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Between 1992 and 1998, Mandela and his family members lived in a house in the affluent Houghton Estate, where the streets are lined with jacaranda trees. When he and his wife Graca Machel moved, the house became the headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation before falling into disrepair. The property has been refurbished and reopened last year as a nine-bedroom luxury hotel. Sanctuary Mandela is also home to a 36-seat restaurant that serves some of Mandiba’s favorite dishes. See sanctuarymandela.com

THE SINGLE VISIT

One way to reach Mandela House – and the nearby Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum commemorating Soweto’s 1976 anti-apartheid uprising – is with Lebo’s Soweto Backpacker Tours. It offers three ways to explore Soweto: on foot, on two wheels, or on the back of a colorful three-wheeled tuk-tuk. Day guests can choose between a two-hour (R570) or four-hour (R690) guided tuk-tuk tour of Soweto, a township so large it covers 200 square kilometers of economically diverse neighborhoods. See sowetobackpackers.com

THE ONE TOWNSHIP BAR

Relax and have fun to the rhythm of the music of the canton in Chaf-Pozi. Located at the foot of the Soweto Towers (twin frescoed towers that were once part of Orlando’s power plant), this shisa nyama (braai or barbecue restaurant) serves up delicious meats, cold beers and good times. See chafpozi.co.za

THE SINGLE MARKET

With the relocation of Fourways Farmers Market to Modderfontein Reserve, it now claims to be Joburg’s finest market. There’s a good reason for that, with a farmhouse-style entrance, bucolic lake views, a cleverly angled beer garden so parents can keep an eye on the playground, food vendors offering dishes from all over the world and birds flying from tree to tree. Open on weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with live music from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. See ffmarket.co.za

THE SINGLE NEIGHBORHOOD

To understand why the Maboneng compound is hailed as a vibrant example of downtown renewal, head to Arts on Main, a creative hub featuring artist studios, galleries, workshops and restaurants. Then, stroll through the streets to spot the hundreds of murals that give this neighborhood its trendy side. See artsonmain.co.za

THE ONLY TAX-FREE PURCHASE

Sip the essence of South Africa at home with a thoughtful selection from OR Tambo’s Duty Free Shops. If you’ve been on safari and fell in love with Amarula (a creamy liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula fruit, which your guide could splash into your morning coffee), there are all variations of it in sale here (vegan, Ethiopian coffee, vanilla spice and more). Or grab a bottle of Indlovu Gin with “elephant fodder plants” (meaning it’s infused with elephant dung). See bigfivedutyfree.co.za

ONE MORE THING

All over South Africa you’ll hear the term ‘load shedding’ – a reference to blackouts used to save electricity since 2008. These blackouts, which worsened significantly in 2022, are part of daily life for 60 million people in South Africa. Don’t be surprised to come across non-working traffic lights, ATMs without backup power, and other annoyances.

Katrina Lobley was a guest of South African Tourism (see southafrica.net)

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